Shadow stood on the edge where the dormant grass met the rip-rap-covered bank. In the bay, the water gently lapped against grayish rocks. Rusty water, made less inviting by the bright sunlight. Through oval glasses he didn’t need, he stared at the ferry as it approached the docks. He’d been compelled to wear them, putting on the face of an intellectual. People stereotyped glasses-wearers as geeks, nerds, and squares long before Velma began single-handedly solving mysteries for the gang. He could play off that for the day.
Looking to his left, Shadow recognized the teenaged boy sitting on a tripod stool in front of an easel. He knew that the boy painted ocean scenes in watercolor, all the same shade of blue but with different concentrations of the color. Several empty tubes of acrylic lay scattered around the boy’s feet and on the easel two cups – one for water, one for paint.
The boy moved the brush over the paper with inhuman speed, starting in the upper left and working his way to the lower right. He didn’t wait for it to dry. As soon as one was finished, he flipped the paper over the top of the pad to reveal a fresh, white sheet. Always intrigued, Shadow walked over to stand behind him and watch as the boy transferred the world onto paper.
“Sea, sea, sea, sea,” the boy murmured over and over as his arm jerked and hitched.
Shadow couldn’t understand how such uncontrolled movements made something so beautiful. The result was a surprisingly realistic rendering with exquisite detail to the tiny crests of waves. For only a moment, he took the pad from the boy and flipped through the paintings. As he flipped, Shadow saw the nebulous blob that marked the position of the ferry make steady progress toward the dock.
“Sea, sea, SEA, SEA.” The boy grew increasingly agitated.
“Yes, I know,” Shadow said to him and returned the pad. “It’s the only thing you see clearly.”
“Sea,” the boy sighed and resumed painting.
Shadow took the ferry to the island. It was a small boat, and the waves were rough, but since the trip was uneventful, he tuned out for a while. He never noticed the young woman, no more than twenty, staring at him with large blue eyes rimmed with black liner. She longed for a hat as she fought to keep her pageboy-cut hair out of her eyes. Eventually, she settled for holding each side of her hair in her fists.
Beyond the draw of a handsome face, she marveled that Shadow’s hair hardly moved. The wind picked up only a few strands and twice saw him scratch at the stubble on his face. Other than that, he didn’t move, and she wondered how anyone could be so still for so long. She thought that, if he embraced her, her ear would rest just over his heart.
On the island, Shadow stared into the forest while the others set up camp. The young woman spoke to him, and he greeted her, letting his eyes pass over her face to record it for future reference. Her eyes, hope and good will seemed to arrow out of them, and he wondered if other things – hate, fear, lust – would also come through them, not only transparently but forcefully so. He gave her a half-smile and a half-laugh, which she returned with a wide, guileless grin. Clingy, he thought and walked away from her to the main tent.
Fourteen feet-by-fourteen feet, the tent stood in a patch of evergreen needles just large enough to contain it. Two adjacent sides had both the flaps and screens unzipped and tied open to allow easy access. A long table and several camp chairs were already set up, along with two laptops, a scanner, and a printer. Shadow gave the equipment the same treatment he’d given the young woman.
“You can try,” he said quietly and left to set up his own tent.
He was up, sitting in a chair in the main tent and listening to the night. A man’s scream cut off abruptly. Snapping, snapping, rending, gurgling growls of satiation. More screaming. His lantern was on, and soon, the surviving five people clustered in the center of the tent, looking to him to know what to do.
“Did you see it?” one horrified man asked of Shadow. “It was eight feet tall!”
“Furry, too?” Shadow asked, his smile haunting his face again. He stood and turned up the lantern. “With lower tusks, large black eyes, and a nose that’s almost comically human.”
The man poked his head out of the flap of the tent and never had the chance to scream before the snarling thing outside batted his head off his shoulders. His body dropped to the ground, and the young woman, beyond terror, darted to Shadow’s side. She tucked her head under his arm and dug her fingers into his shirt.
“What are they?” Her skin was cold, and she quivered with the rush of adrenaline.
“Wild,” Shadow answered. When the beast poked its head into the tent, the young woman looked up at him, searching for an answer, for deliverance. Shadow passed a hand over her short, soft hair and removed his glasses. “Hungry,” he added. As he breathed warm air onto the lenses, the beast leapt.